Hutchison, Kyl propose plan similar to DREAM Act — but without citizenship

Outgoing Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., introduced legislation Tuesday designed to provide legal standing — but never citizenship — for young illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. by their parents.

The “Achieve Act” creates a three tier system for illegal immigrants of “good moral character” under the age of 28 who were brought to the U.S. before the age of 14 to obtain legal standing while pursuing higher education or military service.

This bill comes after Republican candidates struggled mightily to garner votes from Latin Americans in the general election earlier this month, forcing the issue of bipartisanship in immigration reform.

Hutchison stressed the importance of changing this portion of immigration policy first as a way of “getting the ball rolling,” on comprehensive reform.

“We know that there are children in our country who have been brought here illegally by their parents,” she said. “We think the best step that we can take to address an issue that is very timely is to give a legal status that would be earned.”

The proposal by Hutchison and Kyl — both of whom are retiring Republicans from border states — resembles the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM, Act penned by Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Richard Durbin, D-Ill., in 2001.

A staple in immigration reform talks as of late, the DREAM Act also provided temporary legal standing for young immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors who are seeking education or enlisted in military service.

There are minor differences between the bills, such as the maximum age of arrival being lowered from 16 under the DREAM Act to 14 under the Achieve Act and the minimum military service requirement being increased from two years to four years.

The biggest difference is that the Achieve Act does not provide a direct path to full citizenship, as the DREAM Act does. That’s a distinction that Hutchison boasted about — but Democrats blasted.

“Ours is better than the Dream Act because it doesn’t allow them to cut in line,” Hutchison said.”It doesn’t keep them from applying under the rules today, but it doesn’t give them a special preference before those who have waited in line for years to get into the citizenship track.”

Democrats and DREAM Act supporters decried the act as political pandering and counter productive to the pursuit of immigration reform.

United We Dream, an advocacy group for immigrant youth education issued a statement calling the Achieve Act a “cynical political gesture” and rejected it out right for not providing a path to citizenship.

Texas Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D-San Antonio, also was skeptical of the measure and described it as too little, too late.

“This could have been more timely and meaningfully had it been done in the spring when Sen. (Marco) Rubio was making every indication he was trying to get Republicans on board for DREAM Act,” Gonzalez said. “If this had been initiated and introduced at that time, it would have been a catalyst.

“At this point we’re all looking forward to a comprehensive approach bill that’s not just a DREAM Act for young people.”

Kyl said the Achieve Act clears up issues that both Democrats and Republicans had with the DREAM Act. He added that there are ways, such as marriage to a U.S. citizen, that could help Achieve Act beneficiaries reach full citizenship faster than those waiting for entry into the country.

“What we are basically saying is if you want to go to school — whatever kind of school will prepare you for a good job — and if you have a job and keep a job and don’t get into trouble in this country, you’re going to be here for the rest of your life with a legal status,” he said.

Instead of full citizenship, the final stage under the Achieve Act is a permanent nonimmigrant visa up for renewal every four years. The bill does not call for any changes to the green card system.

Beto Cardenas, a former Hutchison general counsel and current Houston lawyer, said immigration reform is crucial for the business community so employers can have a more reliable workforce, one that isn’t constantly threatened by deportation.

Through his work at a Houston-based law firm Vincent & Elkins, Cardenas acts as legal counsel to several businesses that are impacted by illegal immigration. He argues the Achieve Act is Congress’ best bet for getting immigration reform for young immigrants because of the repeatedly failed efforts to pass the DREAM Act.

“I wouldn’t say that one is better than the other for the business community, but one has failed to get the votes,” he said. ”You can continue to do the same thing over and over but some people would say that’s the definition of insanity when you’re expecting a different result.”

The bill could go to a vote during Congress’ lame duck session, but it is unlikely, Kyl admitted. Both Senators said they briefed the successors, Ted Cruz in Texas and Jeff Flake in Arizona, about the details of the bill. Kyl’s fellow Arizona Sen. John McCain and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio were major players in the drafting of the bill.

Hutchison said she does not want to speak for Cruz, whose father immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba, but she said she believed he will be a “major player” in immigration reform.